Bell Sounds from the 20th - July 22, 2014

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer. I’ve enjoyed seeing many of you out at various lawn parties and other celebrations!   

I just want to take a few minutes to share a couple of updates with you.

Valley Business Summit at Blue Ridge Community College

Last year several area legislators along with local business and economic development organizations hosted a business summit at Blue Ridge Community College to help entrepreneurs learn about various resources and strategies for starting and growing their business.

Due to the great success of the event last year, Delegates Ben Cline, Steve Landes, and Tony Wilt have decided to host it again this year on Monday, August 4. Though the event is free and open to the public, an RSVP is required.

The format for this year’s event will remain largely the same.  We will again have a feedback forum at the conclusion of the event for the state legislators to hear your suggestions and concerns related to the business climate in the Commonwealth.  

The Business Summit will begin with registration from 7:30 am to 8:00 am and is set to conclude around noon. Again, it's free to attend, but an RSVP is requested by July 28. Click here to learn more about the event and to RSVP

Please feel free to share the information regarding the Valley Business Summit to anyone you feel might be interested.

Session Summary

On July 1, the majority of legislation that passed into law during the 2014 General Assembly Session went into effect.

Each year the Division of Legislative Services issues a publication that outlines the legislation that will likely have an impact on the lives of most citizens. You can click here to view that document.  

Please understand that this is by no means a complete list of bills that passed into law during the 2014 session.  For more information about legislation from the 2014 Session, please visit lis.virginia.gov. You can also contact our office if you have any questions.

Medicaid Update

As you will undoubtedly recall, Medicaid Expansion was one of the most pressing issues of the 2014 Legislative Session.  Throughout the Session and Special Session, my colleagues and I continually advocated that Medicaid expansion be separated from the budget and considered on its own merit. 

We passed a budget in June that did not include expansion.  In keeping with our promises to give Medicaid expansion full consideration outside of the budgetary process, Speaker Howell announced recently that we will be returning to Richmond in September to continue the Medicaid debate.

While I continue to have significant concerns with expanding the program, I believe that given the number of people potentially affected by this decision, it is important that we continue this debate. I look forward to returning to Richmond to fully consider any and all proposals. I will be sure to keep you updated as more details become available.  

Contact

I always enjoy hearing from many of you regarding the issues that matter most to you. You can reach us by email at deldbell@house.virginia.gov, or by phone at 540-448-3999.

You can also reach us by mail at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Important Campaign Finance Deadline at Midnight Tonight!

We may have been successful in stopping the Governor's push for Medicaid expansion in Virginia, but that has not come without costs.

Prior to the Medicaid debate, Governor McAuliffe expressed his desire to put up and support as many Democrats as possible to beat incumbent Republican House members.  Given what has transpired over the last few weeks with the budget, he is undoubtedly more committed to that goal than ever before.

There is an important campaign finance deadline approaching tonight at midnight, and it is important that we make a strong showing.  This will indicate to my opponents that I have a broad base of support. Though I am not up for re-election this year, we know that Terry McAuliffe and his allies have deep pockets, and they will use them to back our opponents.  Therefore it is critical that we jump start our fundraising.  For this, I need your help.  

Can you contribute $25, $50, $100, or even $500 by midnight tonight to support my campaign?  A donation in any amount that you can afford is useful to my campaign.

It has already taken significant resources this year to effectively convey my position in the Medicaid expansion debate. Given that Governor McAuliffe has indicated his willingness circumvent the General Assembly and pursue expansion unilaterally, I imagine that we will have to continue to spend our resources in this fight.

You can securely contribute online at www.bellfordelegate.com/donate.

You can also mail your contribution to P.O. Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

Thank you for your generous and continued support.


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Bell Sounds from the 20th - June 24, 2014

The Commonwealth finally has a budget in place!  As most of you are already aware,  last Thursday, June 12,  the General Assembly passed a structurally sound and fiscally responsible budget that did not include Medicaid Expansion.  Governor McAuliffe had 7 days from the time the bill was communicated to him to act on the legislation.

Over the weekend, Governor McAuliffe signed the budget, but issued eight line-item vetoes.  He also announced his plan to circumvent the General Assembly and pursue Medicaid Expansion unilaterally.

Yesterday evening the General Assembly returned to Richmond to take up the Governor’s vetoes.  The House of Delegates did not take up five of his vetoes and overrode one.  The Speaker of the House ruled that two vetoes were out of order.  

The budget passed by the General Assembly last week contained language that unequivocally states that the Governor does not have the authority to expand Medicaid unilaterally.  Item 301, Section TTT, Paragraph 9 states “That notwithstandinding any other provision of this act, or any other law, no general or nongeneral funds shall be appropriated or pended for such costs as may be incurred to implement [Medicaid Expansion].”  Governor McAuliffe attempted to veto this language.    

Governor McAuliffe also attempted to veto funding for judges and the conditions attached to it.  This action could potentially delay the administration of justice in the Commonwealth.  There is already a desperate need in Virginia for additional judgeships, and this action, if upheld, could cause increased delays in our justice system.

The ability of the Governor to line-item veto is limited by our state constitution and prior rulings of the State Supreme Court.  Speaker Bill Howell ruled that the vetoes of the judgeship funding and of the Medicaid language were out of order.  He based his ruling on rulings by previous Speakers, as well as rulings held by the Supreme Court of Virginia.  The Supreme Court has previously handed down rulings that outline various restrictions on the Governor’s line-item veto authority.

With each of these two vetoes, Governor McAuliffe attempted to veto a specific provision within a broader item.  Based on past rulings, he does not have this authority without vetoing the entire item.    Because the Speaker ruled these items to be out of order,the vetoes are essentially dead. They will not be enrolled in the final version of the bill.

I know that Speaker Howell takes very seriously this responsibility to make these rulings on the rules and process of the House.  I believe that his ruling is correct.  For more information on the Speaker’s ruling, you can read his statement online here.

The House of Delegates also overturned one of the Governor’s vetoes.  He eliminated the funding and support for the newly created Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council.  This Council was a significant component of the comprehensive ethics reform package that we passed in the 2014 Regular Session.  Despite signing the ethics package into law, the Governor eliminated the funding mechanism with this veto.  This simply did not make sense to many of us in the House.  The Senate, however, did not obtain enough votes to override the veto, and therefore it was sustained.

The House did not act on, and therefore sustained, five of the Governor’s vetoes.  The following vetoes were not taken up by the House:

  • language that would allow Chesterfield County to help run Petersburg City Schools. (Item 36.A.19)
  • language that related to the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission. (Item 301 TTT 6a and part of 7a)
  • language regarding a technical reversion of money from the Federal Action Contingency Fund to the General Fund. (Item 468.G.1.c)
  • language that sets up a process for spending Virginia’s portion of assets forfeiture suits.  (Item 4-2.02d)
  • language requiring the Executive Branch to present more detailed reports to the General Assembly during the budget process. (Item 4-8.02b)
I still believe that despite the safeguards we have taken in the budget, that the Governor likely intends to circumvent the legislature and pursue the expansion of Medicaid.  This is deeply concerning to me, as i know it is to the many of you who deeply respect and support our representative government.  We must not allow him to set this dangerous precedent. The separation of powers among the three branches of government establishes a balance of power and is the framework for our form of government.  We must protect the integrity of those principles. 

 

Rest assured that I stand ready to join with my colleagues in the House of Delegates to challenge any and all actions by the Governor to expand Medicaid without the express approval of the legislature, as required by Virginia’s Constitution.

Though I am disappointed that it took us this long,  I am pleased that we have avoided a government shutdown, which would have been disastrous for Virginia.  

Contact

I always enjoy hearing from many of you regarding the issues that matter most to you. You can reach us by email at deldbell@house.virginia.gov, or by phone at 540-448-3999. You can also reach us by mail at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.
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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Budget Bill Passes in the General Assembly

It appears that the three month budget stalemate has come to an end.   Late last night the State Senate and House of Delegates came together to put the people of Virginia ahead of politics. We passed a responsible, fiscally sound, and conservative budget that addresses our state’s $1.5 billion revenue shortfall while protecting our key investments in K-12, mental health, and the Virginia Retirement System.  This budget does not include Medicaid Expansion.

Earlier this week, negotiations surrounding the budget took a shocking turn.  The unexpected resignation of Democratic Senator Phillip Puckett allowed Republicans to regain the majority in the Virginia Senate.  Joined by one of their Democratic colleagues, all twenty Republicans immediately called the Senate back into session.

The House and Senate returned to Richmond yesterday to finish work on the biennial budget.  The Senate passed House Bill 5002 on a vote of 21-19, and the House passed a budget with a vote of 69-31. 

This budget tackles the $1.5 billion shortfall for the next biennium by eliminating spending increases compared to the original budget, and tapping into the state’s rainy day fund. 

Though I wish that we didn’t have to use the rainy day fund, we had little choice given the revenue numbers and our looming deadline.  Revenues were down by $394 million (almost 20 percent) in May.  We expect revenues to be down by about $550 million each of the next two years.  While we obviously won’t know the final numbers until July, we have built a budget that anticipates a big shortfall.

Like families in Virginia, we simply can’t spend money that we don’t have.  For this reason, we unfortunately had to eliminate most new spending increases.  This includes teacher and state employee pay raises, new higher education funding, new economic development funding, and new hospital and nursing home funding. 

We were, however, able to protect over $300 million in new classroom funding for K-12 education, about $50 million in new funding for mental health reforms and investments in our state employee retirement system.

For a more detailed look at what the budget does and does not include, I encourage you to view a presentation by House Appropriations Committee staff that outlines the changes.

The budget passed last night does not include the expansion of Medicaid.  In fact, it specifically includes language added by Senator Bill Stanley that states that the Governor cannot expand without the approval of the legislature. 

Though the original budget language did not expressly allow the Governor to expand Medicaid without the approval of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, there was concern among many that Governor McAuliffe may try to do so.  Therefore, the General Assembly has added an additional, clarifying section that unequivocally prohibits the expansion of Medicaid without the approval of the legislature.   

I strongly encourage Governor McAuliffe to sign the budget without substantial amendments and without inserting Medicaid expansion.  Virginia needs a budget now. If he includes Medicaid expansion, the House will reject that amendment, causing even further delays in adopting the budget.

Once the budget is signed, we can and should return to Richmond to debate Medicaid expansion on its own merit.

I have continually expressed my concerns about Medicaid expansion, and I still believe that Virginia cannot afford the long-term costs and we cannot trust the federal government to pay for Medicaid expansion forever.  I am, however, more than willing to have a full and fair debate on this issue. The Governor and General Assembly members can make any proposal they want and I will debate it and consider it on its own merit.

Throughout the past three months, elected officials from many of Virginia’s localities have repeatedly called on the General Assembly and the Governor to pass a timely budget. As the deadline approached, localities and the Commonwealth became increasingly concerned about the possibility of losing our AAA bond rating.  Although Senator Puckett's sudden resignation allowed for the restart of negotiations, a number of factors were already beginning to indicate impending action.

While I am disappointed that it took us 96 days to get here, I am pleased that we are one step closer to avoiding a Government shutdown.  I hope that the Governor will act quickly on the budget, so that our localities, school divisions, and state agencies can gain the certainty that they need to complete their own budgets.

Contact

I always enjoy hearing from many of you regarding the issues that matter most to you. You can reach us by email at deldbell@house.virginia.gov, or by phone at 540-448-3999.

You can also reach us by mail at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.

 

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - June 6, 2014

I hope you are enjoying the start of summer!

 I wish that I had more to report on the progress of the budget, but unfortunately no movement has been made since my last update.  There are some promising signs that the conferees could be ready to restart negotiations, and I remain hopeful that we will be able to reach some sort of agreement and pass a budget prior to the June 30th deadline. 

 Unfortunately it appears that we may not be able to return to Richmond until late June, as Democratic leadership in the Senate has indicated that they are unwilling to move forward until one of their members returns to the country from a vacation.

I will do my best do keep you updated on the progress of the budget as we approach the deadline. In the meantime, I would like to provide you with some updates on things that have been going on here in the district.

Legislative Branch Savings

Despite the dire revenue numbers we heard previously this month, we did have some positive news come out of Richmond this week.  On Thursday, Speaker of the House of Delegates William J. Howell announced $7,356,129 in legislative branch savings that will be returned to the general fund at the end of FY 2014.  This includes $3.7 million in savings from legislative branch agencies and over $3.5 million in savings from legislative commissions and councils.

I believe that these savings are a testament to the fiscally conservative and responsible approach to governing that we have worked so hard to achieve.  At a time of continued economic uncertainty, Virginia’s taxpayers are right to expect their government to live within its means.

These savings are especially critical given the potential budget shortfall for the fiscal year.  I am grateful that our agency heads and legislative branch employees have worked so hard to be good stewards of our limited resources over the last few years. This has lead to over $19 million in savings since 2010. 

For a detailed list of agency savings, please click here.

 Golden Apple Award

I am pleased to announce that just yesterday I was presented with the Golden Apple Award from PublicSchoolOptions.org at their end of year celebration.  

The Golden Apple Award is awarded to legislators who promote school choice. This is such an honor, and I am so grateful and humbled to receive this award.  I have made school choice, and specifically virtual education, a top priority throughout my time in the House of Delegates, and I will continue to do so as long as I have the privilege to serve.

 Woodmen of the World Community Partnership Award

 Additionally, I was honored to receive the Community Partnership Award from our local Woodmen of the World.  This award is given annually to someone that they feel has made a significant contribution to their community.  This is truly an honor and I would like to thank the Woodmen of the World for this recognition.

2014 Outstanding Academic Achievers

This time of year, it is common for us to see a number of high school students who are recognized and honored for their academic and extracurricular accomplishments.

On May 13, I was pleased to attend a reception hosted by the Greater Augusta Chamber of Commerce honoring Staunton, Augusta and Waynesboro’s 2014 Outstanding Academic Achievers.  These students are the best of the best in the class of 2014, and I am excited to see how they will excel in the future.

This year, we were involved a bit more in the Academic Achievers program than I have been in previous years.  My office was pleased to sponsor a $1,000 scholarship, which was awarded to Mary Desmond, a senior at Riverheads.  Mary plans to attend a university in Virginia where she will study broadcast journalism.  I hope that the scholarship will be useful to her as she continues her academic pursuits.

The other Outstanding Academic Achievers of the class of 2014 were:

 Buffalo Gap High School

Dakota Moneymaker     Maryanna Turnage     Mercedes Moore

 

Fishburne Military School

Edwin Lopez

 

Fort Defiance High School

Charles Good     Caleb Baxter     Rebekah Flick

 

Ridgeview Christian School

Holly Lyons

 

Riverheads High School

Mary Desmond     Casey Dawn Gailey     Rebecca Lynn Hite

 

Robert E. Lee High School

Robert Rizzo     Natalie Cascario     Martha Sheridan

 

Stuarts Draft High School

Elena Miller     Kimberly Daw     Alexandra Steege

 

Stuart Hall

Shiyao Sun     Elijah Rinaldi     Anatolia Ebru Hodson

 

Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind

Hannah Nicole Mills     Scarlet Racey

 

Waynesboro High School

Zachary Pereles     Ryley Stevens     Andrew Bihl

Wilson Memorial High School

Phillip Seaton     Andrew Christian White     Miles Harnad

 

Congratulations to these Academic Achievers, and to the Class of 2014!

 Rotary Code of Ethics

On the afternoon of May 27, I was also pleased to attend the 2014 Rotary Code of Ethics luncheon sponsored by the Staunton Rotary Club. 

 Each year, the Staunton Rotary honors students from each local high school that have demonstrated strong individual values and ethics.  These students are great role models for their peers, and I would like to congratulate each of them. 

The Code of Ethics Award recipients are:

 

Buffalo Gap High School

Maryanna Turnage     Cole Young

 

Fishburne Military School

Sutton Jones

 

Fort Defiance High School

Brock Barnes     Andrea Wright

 

Grace Christian School

Justin Bowles     Jessica Law

 

Highland High School

Paige Fisher     Robert Moyers

 

Ridgeview Christian School

William Campbell     Kirsten Dolack

 

Riverheads High School

John Bussard     Elizabeth Milo

 

Robert E. Lee High School

David Eiker     Olivia Pyanoe

 

Stuarts Draft High School

Lilley Fitzgerald     Drew Gibbons

 

Stuart Hall

Elijah Rinaldi     Anatolia Hodson

 

Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind

Tyler Gumm     Hannah Mills

 

Waynesboro High School

Zachary Allen     Janitha Bellamy

 

Wilson Memorial High School

Robert Fern     Whitney Harris

 

Upcoming Events

 As summer approaches, so do the various lawn parties, fairs, and other celebrations that come with it. Here is a list of the events in our district. I hope to see you out at many of these events!

 July 3-4

America’s Birthday Celebration at Gypsy Hill Park

July 9-12

Churchville Lawn Party

Stuarts Draft Lawn Party

July 12

Waynesboro Extravaganza

 

August 5-9

Augusta County Fair

 August 30 – September 6

Highland County Fair

 Donate

Though there’s no election for the House of Delegates this year, the need for money is still very real.  We must spread our positive message of small government, fiscal responsibility, and valley values across Virginia. I use campaign funds for mailings and other materials that help keep voters in the 20th District informed on the happenings in Richmond.  For this, I need your help.  You can donate at bellfordelegate.com, or by mailing a check to Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.   

  Contact

 I always enjoy hearing from many of you regarding the issues that matter most to you. You can reach us by email at deldbell@house.virginia.gov,

or by phone at 540-448-3999.

 You can also reach us by mail at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

  Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.

 

 

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - May 2

Let me first thank all of you who came out to American’s for Prosperity’s Town Hall meeting on Monday night.  For those of you who were not in attendance I encourage you to check out some of the news coverage of the event. 

Dickie Bell: Majority oppose expansion of Medicaid – Augusta Free Press

Bell steps into lion’s den on Medicaid expansion – The News Virginian

Town Hall Meeting Centers on Medicaid Expansion – NBC 29

Medicaid Expansion and the State Budget

Unfortunately since our last newsletter there is no progress to report on the state budget.  Governor McAuliffe and members of the State Senate still will not agree to any budget that does not include Medicaid Expansion. 

 Christopher Newport University released a poll last week that decisively shows that Virginians oppose Medicaid expansion and don’t want to see a government shutdown in the Commonwealth.

According to the poll, voters oppose Medicaid expansion 53% to 41%. Even in the more liberal-leaning Northern Virginia support for expansion is only 49%.   Independents oppose expansion 55% to 35%. 

 More importantly, the poll shows that Virginians overwhelmingly oppose Governor McAuliffe’s effort to hold the state budget hostage over this issue.  71% of Virginians want to see a compromise that avoids a shutdown –this means passing a clean budget without Medicaid expansion.

These are good results for us, but we can’t back off now.  Click here to sign the petition and tell Governor McAuliffe it’s time to compromise and pass a clean budget to keep the state government open. 

 Reconvened Session

 The General Assembly reconvened last Wednesday to consider the Governor's vetoes and amendments to legislation. Governor McAuliffe offered amendments to 57 bills and vetoed five.  While some of his amendments were technical in nature and made improvements to the existing legislation, I did disagree with him on a number of other amendments and all of his vetoes. 

While some of the Governor's amendments and vetoes seemed to be a genuine disagreement on policy, others appeared to be retribution against legislators that have been vocal opponents of the Governor’s efforts to expand Medicaid.

 Overall, the House rejected the Governor's recommendations on 16 bills, while the Senate rejected his recommendations on five bills. All of his vetoes were upheld due to insufficient support in the Senate to override them (It takes a 2/3 vote in both chambers to override a veto).

There were three bills that were amended or vetoed for which I received significant feedback from my constituents.  These were Senate Bill 377, Senate Bill 236, and Senate Bill 555. 

 Senate Bill 377 was initially written to allow gun dealers seeking to purchase, trade or transfer a firearm from a non-dealer individual to submit information on that firearm to law enforcement to determine if it has been reported lost or stolen. Included in this process is a consent form which must contain all identification taken in writing from the person selling, trading or transferring the firearm to the dealer as well as the firearm information. The original legislation stipulated that, should the firearm be determined to not have been reported lost or stolen, the dealer is required to destroy the consent form within two weeks.

The Governor's amendment required that the form be retained for at least 90 days, and did not stipulate that it ever had to be destroyed. Our fear was that this amendment could amount to a back-door way to go about creating a gun and gun-owner registry. Thankfully, the Senate rejected this amendment and therefore the House was not required to take up the vote. If I would’ve had the opportunity to vote, I would have voted against this amendment.

Senate Bill 236 and Senate Bill 555 are both bills related to religious liberties. SB 236 codified the right of students in public schools to pray, engage in religious activities or other forms of expression and to organize prayer groups, gatherings and religious clubs to the same extent that students may engage in nonreligious activities.  SB 555 prohibits censorship by state government officials or agencies of the religious content of sermons made by chaplains of the Virginia National Guard

The Governor vetoed these bills, and unfortunately the Senate did not achieve the votes necessary to override the veto.  I supported this legislation in the regular General Assembly session, and would have happily voted to override the veto if I had had the opportunity to do so.

Appointments

 I am honored to report that over the last couple of weeks I have received three appointments from Speaker Bill Howell. 

The first was an appointment to the Southern Regional Education Board Legislative Work Conference, to be held in Louisville, Kentucky on June 21-24.

 The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with 16 member states to improve public pre-K-12 and higher education.  At this conference legislators from the member states to discuss education policy. 

I was privileged to attend the SREB Work Conference in 2010 and 2013, and I am looking forward to having this experience again in 2014.

 Additionally, I was appointed to two boards.  I’ve been appointed to the Center for Rural Virginia Board of Trustees, as well as the Virginia Commission on Youth.   

The Center for Rural Virginia was established in the Code of Virginia as an independent nonprofit local entity without political subdivision status, for the purpose of sustaining economic growth in the rural areas of the Commonwealth and lessening the burdens of government.

 The Commission on Youth is directed by the Code of Virginia to study and provide recommendations addressing the needs of and services to the Commonwealth’s youth and families.

 I am thankful to Speaker Howell for providing me with these opportunities that will allow me to better represent the 20th District.

Donate

Though the House of Delegates is continuing to hold the line against the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia, the fight is far from over.  We will continue to have to use our resources to help get our message out.  For this, I will need your help.  A donation in any amount will help us continue this fight.  You can donate by clicking here, or by mailing a check to Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.   

 Contact

 I always enjoy hearing from many of you regarding the issues that matter most to you. You can reach us by email at deldbell@house.virginia.gov, or by phone at 540-448-3999.

You can also reach us by mail at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

 Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.

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Join Delegate Bell for a "Dutch Treat" Lunch Meeting on Saturday, March 22!

As most of you are aware by now, last Saturday, March 8 the 2014 General Assembly Session adjourned Sine Die.  Unfortunately, however, we did so without a budget.  The Governor has called for a Special Session on March 24 to allow us to continue our budget discussion. 

 My hope is that the conferees will be able to reach some sort of agreement by that point. Our localities, school divisions, and other agencies that require state funds need for the General Assembly to act on a budget now so that they can move forward with setting their own budgets. 

Prior to the Special Session, I would love to hear from you.  I will be hosting a “Dutch-Treat” Lunch Meeting at 12:00 noon on Saturday, March 22 at Mrs. Rowe’s in Staunton.

Due to space constraints, an RSVP is required.  Please RSVP to Savanna at savanna@bellfordelegate.com by Wednesday March 19

Budget Petition

Whatever your views on Medicaid Expansion, there is no question that Virginians need a budget now.  If we remove Medicaid Expansion from the budget, the Governor still has the authority to call a Special Session for Medicaid further down the road.  It is wrong to hold hostage our teachers, public safety personnel, state employees, and localities due to disagreement on one issue. 

If you agree with me that Virginia should pass a clean budget, please let Governor McAuliffe know.  You can do so by signing this petition.  

Contact Us

This is a reminder that we are now once again operating out of our district office.  You can reach us by phone at 540-448-3999.

Throughout the interim, please be aware that our Richmond office is closed.  Though we try to routinely monitor the voicemails in our Richmond office, we ask that for the quickest response that you please call our district phone number.  

You can also continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov, and by mail at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Week 9

The General Assembly is set to adjourn tomorrow, but it unfortunately looks like we will do so without finishing the state budget.

 

As I’ve mentioned in previous emails, on February 20th we passed the 2014-2016 House budget with a bipartisan vote of 74-25. This budget takes a “savings first” approach and provides funding for many critical areas to include $48 million for mental health services; $530.9 million for public education; $210 million to higher education; and includes millions to fully fund our Virginia Retirement System (VRS) obligations by 2016, three years earlier than required.

 

At this time the House and Senate budget proposals are very close. The bottom lines are separated by one-tenth of one percent, a difference that could be easily closed if Senate budget conferees would come to the table to seriously negotiate.

 

Unfortunately, however, our conferees have consistently encountered a slow, unresponsive attitude from Senate Democrats.  At this critical time Governor McAuliffe has traveled around Virginia grandstanding for one political issue rather than work with us to negotiate the differences in the budget.

 

By failing to pass a budget, we are ignoring the fact that numerous entities around the state need Virginia’s budget passed long before July 1, the deadline before a potential government shutdown.  Local governments, state agencies, our colleges and universities, school boards, and many businesses that contract with the state look to the state budget for guidance as they prepare their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.  They cannot wait until July. They need to know now how much they can count on from the state in order to set their own budgets.  

 

Without a budget College Boards of Visitors, who depend on the state budget as they work this spring to set tuition rates for the next year, will be forced to prepare for a worst case scenario. This could result in double digit tuition increases that our students and families cannot afford.

 

Our local school divisions will be forced to rethink teacher position openings, renewed contracts, new school supplies, employee healthcare plans, and expanded extracurricular activities if they don’t have a State budget to work from.  

 

Local governments are relying on state funding for road maintenance, payments to VRS, and new Department of Environmental Quality requirements.

 

Every day that we delay, we are causing more uncertainty for these and many other citizens that are depending on the state to pass a budget well before the July 1 deadline.   

 

House Republican Leadership has called for a special session after we pass the budget to debate the issues of Medicaid expansion on its merits. This will ensure funding for our teachers, schools, firefighters, police officers and local governments are not used as leverage to implement Medicaid expansion.

 

The Senate Medicaid expansion proposal is language only.  It has no impact on our state budget, appropriates no funds, and generates no budget savings.  Therefore it could easily be separated from the budget, and the Governor has the authority to call a special session to ensure that we act on it.  

 

This is an issue that many Virginians have strong feelings about on both sides.  Though I do not support Medicaid expansion, I recognize that a number of Virginians, including Governor McAuliffe, do.  For that reason I believe it is important that we continue this debate.  I do not think we should do so, however, at the expense of those citizens who desperately need us to pass a clean budget now.     

 

There is historical precedent for this.  On numerous occasions in the past we have removed key issues from the budget to be dealt with during a special session to avoid a budget impasse.  Governor George Allen called a special session in 1994 on parole reform. Governor Jim Gilmore called a special session in 1998 on car-tax relief. Governor Tim Kaine called a special session in 2006 on transportation.  

 

A special session would have several benefits. The most obvious benefit would be that postponing the Medicaid debate to a special session would allow us to avoid a shutdown and finish budget negotiations on proposals that are currently already 99.9% in agreement.  It would also allow legislators time to go home and talk to constituents about this critical issue.  Finally, it would allow those in favor of Medicaid expansion to craft meaningful legislation that can stand alone and be considered on its merits.

 

Virginia is 1 of 12 states with an AAA bond rating from all three rating agencies. Last year we were named the best state for doing business by Forbes magazine. We did not earn these accolades by using our budget as a political tool.

 

The Virginia Chamber of Commerce released a statement this week that supports the House Republican call for a special session. They cited the serious implications budget uncertainty could have for the Commonwealth’s business community. Investment decisions and business relocations could be discouraged and Virginia’s reputation as the nation’s best state for business could be discredited.

 

I truly hope the Governor and the Senate will stop holding up the budget over a partisan, political issue; an act that is contrary to Virginia tradition. We should pass a clean budget on time and hold a special session on Medicaid expansion.

 

This Session we have advanced bipartisan legislation that helps our veterans, our teachers, our children, our roads, and those who are most vulnerable. We owe it to these citizens to pass our budget on time.

 

Sign the Petition

 

Virginia’s budget is not a bargaining chip.  Regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid Expansion, holding hostage funding for our schools, teachers, police officers, firefighters and local governments is wrong.  

 

If you agree with me, please let Governor McAuliffe know.  You can do so by signing this petition asking Governor McAuliffe to pass a clean budget.  

 

Contact

Thank you so much to those of you who have visited us in Richmond, and also to those of you who have called, written, and emailed us over the last few weeks.  We are still in the process of responding to all of our emails, and we appreciate your patience.

As the regular session draws to a close, we will once again be operating out of the district.  You can reach us by phone at 540-448-3999.

Throughout the interim, please be aware that our Richmond office is closed.  Though we try to routinely monitor the voicemails in our Richmond office, we ask that for the quickest response that you please call our district phone number.  

You can also continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov, and by mail at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Week 8

With only one week left things are definitely starting to wind down in Richmond.  Though much of our work is behind us, we still have to complete work on the budget before we can adjourn.  This is arguably the most important task that we have.  

Though no agreement has been reached yet, I understand that the conferees have made some progress in reducing the differences in spending between the two budgets. What began as a $40 million difference in spending priorities has been reduced to $26 million in a week. Unfortunately the debate over Medicaid expansion has continued to impede real progress.  

I’m proud of the priorities that the House has put forth in their budget.  We have adopted a budget that includes limited creation of new programs, sets aside funds for our savings accounts and emergencies, and invests in core functions of government that will continue to help and strengthen middle class families across Virginia.

As I walk through a few more proposals in the House budget, please remember that at this time these items are still subject to change. While they have passed in the House, they have not yet been agreed to by the conference committee.  Until the conference report by the budget conferees is adopted, all budget proposals are subject to change.   

Jobs and Economic Growth

During the economic downturn jobs and economic growth have been a top priority in the budget process, and they have remained a priority this year.

To support our efforts of growing the economy, the House budget includes $11.8 million for the Governor's Opportunity Fund. This fund assists in the creation of jobs by securing a business relocation to the Commonwealth and helping with expansion projects for existing Virginia businesses.  

Many times over the last few years we have seen the impact of this fund in expansions in the Valley, and I hope we will continue to see this in the future.

State Employees

During times of economic difficulty we have had to borrow from the Virginia Retirement System to help maintain a balanced budget.  A top priority in this budget is to meet the responsibility of the Commonwealth to state employees by fully funding the pension system. This budget will restore 100% of the required rates by 2016, three years earlier than required.

In addition, if Virginia’s economy remains strong and we meet our revenue projections, a revenue reserve will be used for a state employee 2% pay raise in July of 2015.

Public Safety

Keeping our communities and neighborhoods safe creates a better quality of life for all Virginians. The budget passed by the House adds $7.1 annually for our local police departments.  I am hopeful that this increased funding will allow them the personnel and resources they need to keep our communities safe.

Rainy Day Fund

One of the most important things we can do to help families across Virginia is ensure that Virginia is in a sound financial position should the economy once again take a downward turn.

To combat any negative impacts of slowed growth, $243 million has been allotted for a Rainy Day Fund deposit that brings the fund to over $900 million.

In addition, $140 million has been set aside for a revenue reserve fund to absorb any potential future revenue reductions.

Special Election in House District 100

This week also saw an election with significant implications for a key Session issue – Medicaid expansion. On Tuesday, a special election was held for the House seat recently vacated by Senator Lynwood Lewis.  House District 100, a district held by a Democrat the last 10 years and won by President Obama and Senator Kaine in 2012 elections, gave Republican Robert Bloxom a big win.

This election was of particular importance in Virginia because the main issue throughout the campaign was the candidates’ opposing views on Medicaid expansion.  The Democratic candidate supported Medicaid expansion, while Republican Rob Bloxom was adamantly against expansion.  Bloxom won by 20 percentage points, and brought House Republicans to 68 members, a historic high.

The voters spoke loud and clear in this election - reject Medicaid expansion in Virginia. Voters do not support Governor McAuliffe and the Democrat Senate’s tactics of putting expansion language in the budget. This puts funding for all other core functions in jeopardy. Teachers, police officers, firefighters, and agencies statewide are counting on an on-time Virginia budget.

Survey Results

I would like to remind those of you who are interested that we have tallied and published the results of our 2014 Legislative Survey.  You can see the results online here.

Visitors

Though things are wrapping up here in Richmond, we were still pleased to see a number of visitors this week from the 20th District.

On Tuesday, we welcomed Rocco DeVito and members of the Blue Ridge Deaf Senior Citizens group from Staunton.  Though I was unable to personally meet with them, I was pleased to have the opportunity to see them in the Gallery and introduce them from the floor. You can see video of the introduction online here.

On Wednesday I had the opportunity to spend some time with Erin Hagedorn, Tory Selmer, and several student representatives from the Kate Collins Middle School Student Government Association.  It was great to talk to them and I look forward to seeing them again in the future.

We also were able to meet Wednesday with representatives from Columbia Gas in Staunton, and Savanna was able to meet with Dr. Scott Just from Augusta Health.

I was able to meet with Jim Harrington of the Staunton City Council along with some of his colleagues from Mary Baldwin College.  Jean Shrewsbury, Augusta County Commissioner of the Revenue, also stopped by for a visit.

There is only one week left in the 2014 Session, but there is still time for you to visit. If you plan to be in Richmond next week feel free to stop by!

Appointments are requested but not required. To schedule an appointment please call Savanna at 804-698-1020.

Contact Us!

While we are in Session, we will be operating out of our Richmond Office. To contact us in Richmond, please call 804-698-1020.  You can also reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.  If you would like to send written correspondence, you can mail it to Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218.  You can also fax it to 804-698-6720.

 

While we do our best to respond to every email and voicemail as quickly as possible, during Session we get sometimes hundreds of calls and emails each day. Therefore, it can often take some time to filter through everything. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and assure you that we will work to get back to you as promptly as possible.

We look forward to hearing from you!

As always, I thank you for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Week 7

This week was budget week at the General Assembly. In addition to addressing roughly 2,300 pieces of legislation this session, the General Assembly must pass a biennial budget for 2014-2016 spending levels.

 

I am pleased to report that the House has presented a fiscally responsible budget that is structurally balanced and invests in the core functions of government that best meet the needs of Virginia citizens.  

 

The House Budget

 

The House budget proposal is a responsible, conservative proposal that focuses on saving first and spending second.

 

The budget adopted by the House sets aside over $380 million in two state savings accounts.  It also targets key investments in core functions of government, such as education, public safety, transportation, and health services.  Its top emphasis is on K-12 and higher education, mental health services, hospitals and healthcare, and Virginia’s state employees.  The budget adopted by the House does not include any provisions for Medicaid expansion.

 

The budget that passed in the House includes an additional $530.9 million for K-12 public education.  This investment, combined with numerous reforms passed over the last few years, will help provide teachers with the tools necessary to provide our children with a high quality education. This additional funding for students, teachers, and our school systems accounts for approximately 25% of the new spending in the budget. A majority of the funds will help cover increased contributions to teacher retirement funds and teacher health care benefit premium rates. $25 million will be used for new school construction loans. $7.5 million will go towards reading and math initiatives, the Teach for America program, and National Board Certification bonuses for teachers.

 

The House budget also commits over $210 million for higher education, including funding for more in-state tuition spots and funding to help moderate tuition costs.  We are continuing our commitment to help keep college affordable for all Virginia families.

 

The House budget includes targeted investments in the area of healthcare and mental health as well.  To look out for Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens, it includes 50 new ID and 15 new DD waivers, as well as $48 million for mental health access, treatment, and services.  The budget also includes over $118 million in inflation adjustments for our hospitals and $111 million for our nursing homes to help support our hospitals for the indigent care services they provide.   

We also value our state employees for their service to the Commonwealth and want to reward them for their hard work. If Virginia’s economy continues to grow, and we meet our revenue projected costs, the revenue reserve will be used to provide a 2% bonus, effective July 2015, to state employees.

 

Every budget is a compromise, and no budget proposal satisfies everyone or everything. This budget is not perfect, but I do believe it is a good starting point for negotiations.  Like Virginia families, the General Assembly, by law, must balance its budget each year, and we must set priorities.  This budget does that. Keep in mind that this is not the final budget and it may look very different when the budget conferees of both the House and Senate finish their work.

 

Status of Medicaid Expansion

 

One of the main reasons that I supported the House budget is that it is currently the only budget that does not contain Medicaid expansion.  Therefore, it was critical that the House pass this budget to get it into conference.

 

The House has been very clear that we do not think Virginia is ready to move forward with Medicaid expansion.  Last year, both parties in the House and Senate agreed to a process that would remove the issue of Medicaid expansion from the budget.  

 

I personally do not believe that budget negotiations should be preconditioned on Medicaid expansion, which is exactly what the Senate budget does. They have unfortunately brought Washington-style politics to Virginia’s budget process.  

 

The Senate is holding Virginia hostage to Medicaid expansion; this includes funding for teachers, rescue personnel, police officers, state employees, hospitals, colleges, and much more.  This is completely unacceptable.  The House of Delegates will hold strong against expansion.  We must improve the services for current recipients before we even consider expansion.  MIRC must be allowed to finish the job they started.

 

Virtual Education Update

 

Last week I provided a detailed look into several pieces of virtual education legislation that passed in the House.  This includes my House Bill 324, which establishes a new Virtual Virginia School and creates a Board of the Virginia Virtual School as a policy agency under the Secretary of Education (SOE).  This bill was heard today in the Public Education subcommittee of the Senate Education and Health committee.

 

The subcommittee expressed some concerns regarding the funding with this legislation, and would like for the Senate Finance committee to get involved in this legislation during the interim.  They continued the bill until the 2015 Session, and will request that the Chairman of the Committee on Education and Health write a letter to the Senate Finance chairman to request that they get involved in the ongoing discussion surrounding this bill.

 

Though this isn’t what I had hoped for, I still consider it a success. The bill is still alive, and the discussions will be ongoing throughout the interim.  I am hopeful that we can finally resolve some of the funding questions with this bill and find a piece of legislation that can gain bipartisan support in the 2015 Session.  

 

Survey Results

 

We have tallied the results of our 2014 Legislative Survey.  We have mailed the results to those of you who took the survey. For those of you who did not and are interested, you can see the results online here.


Visitors

 

We were once again glad to see a number of visitors from home.

James Gibson stopped by representing the Virginia Government Employees Association.  Dennis Burnett from the Shenandoah Valley Partnership and Greg Hitchen, Director of Economic Development in Waynesboro also stopped in for a visit.

 

I was pleased to have the opportunity to visit with students from Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro, who were in town for Model General Assembly, as well as Patricia Via and representatives from the Waynesboro Women’s Club.

 

There are only two weeks left until the end of the 2014 General Assembly Session. This is still plenty of time to visit. If you’re in Richmond over the next two weeks please feel free to stop by!

 

Appointments are not required, but they are appreciated.  To make an appointment call Savanna at 804-698-1020.

 

Contact Us

 

While we are in Session, we will be operating out of our Richmond Office. To contact us in Richmond, please call 804-698-1020.  You can also reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.  If you would like to send written correspondence, you can mail it to Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218.  You can also fax it to 804-698-6720.

 

While we do our best to respond to every email and voicemail as quickly as possible, during Session we get sometimes hundreds of calls and emails each day. Therefore, it can often take some time to filter through everything. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and assure you that we will work to get back to you as promptly as possible.

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

As always, I thank you for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.

 
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